It comes from a cow.
It’s heated. The fat is separated from the protein by centrifugation, then added back to the protein in precise amounts to achieve a targeted fat percentage.
It has been treated to kill harmful bacteria.
It contains ammonia.
Its label does not disclose any of this.
Next time you pick up a carton or jug of pasteurized reduced fat milk, look at the label. It doesn’t say “skim milk with 2% fat added back.” It doesn’t say “whole milk processed to remove the fat and add back a measured amount.” It doesn’t say “milk contains ammonia.” It says “reduced fat milk.”
After weeks of media reports, blog posts – some accurate, others less so – and public reaction to the “pink slim” story, I am left wondering why the target has been glued so firmly to the corporate back of Beef Products, Inc. After all, BPI is not the only producer of Lean Finely Textured Beef.
Cargill, a corporation that has had its share of food safety issues over the years, also makes and sells this product. Both Cargill and BPI treat their products chemically to eliminate harmful bacteria. BPI uses ammonia, which is a natural constituent of beef. Cargill uses citric acid, which – although a natural constituent of citrus fruit – typically is produced by fermentation of a sugar solution. Chemists use a calcium hydroxide treatment, followed by a sulfuric acid treatment to recover citric acid from the fermented solution.
Contrary to how it has been characterized in a number of media reports, BPI’s lean beef product is not a filler. Fillers, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are “…mostly plant substances, low in protein and high in carbohydrates such as cereals, roots, tubers and vegetables and some refined products such as starches and flours. Pure meat products are very low in carbohydrates. Hence the addition of carbohydrate-rich substances is not an “extension” of the protein mix, but some new components “fill-up” the product volume. Apart from their volume-filling capacity, some fillers, in particular starches and flours, are also used for their capability to absorb extensive quantities of water.”
Bill Marler suggested in his Food Safety News Publisher’s Platform today that BPI should invite the public – not politicians – to tour its plant and taste its meat. Sounds like a great idea, but how many individual consumers have the time, the motivation, or the money to travel to BPI’s production plant? And would the company still be in business by the time its message was spread by word of mouth by these few consumers – even in this era of instant Internet news?
Bill also suggested that BPI should post its lab test results online, and should tell the public how the product is made and what is in it. “If you are proud of your product,” he writes, “explain in honest and clear terms why you are.”
So, BPI invited ABC News – its most powerful media critic – to bring its camera into the plant. Yes, it also invited governors from the states in which it operates. And it invited consumer food safety advocate Nancy Donley, whose nonprofit organization, STOP Foodborne Illness, it helps support.
The plant tour was followed by a news conference, which can be viewed in its entirely here.
This is no longer a story about food safety – if it ever was. Near the end of the news conference, Jim Avila of ABC News was taken to task by Texas Governor Rick Perry. After first declining to answer Perry’s questions, Avila acknowledged that the safety of BPI’s meat was not at issue.
“We have,” Avila admitted, “never said this product is unsafe.”